Over the last six months, I've had the privilege to work with a whole range of app companies, app developers, and marketers. They range from indie beginners to full blown, $30M venture funded app studios. I've worked with people making $10/month and I've worked with people making $1,200,000/month. In the gaming world, I get to see how so many people are working through their own paths and trying to make something stick. It's been both enlightening and frustrating to see how much low hanging fruit goes unpicked, especially by the smaller guys (YOU!).
To be fair, it's hard to do everything and still follow the app flipping mentality, producing huge amounts of assets as quickly as possible. They're diametric. But, at some point, each of you is going to wonder what the big dogs are doing. I'm not talking about the guys who skyrocket to the top of the charts and make a ton of cash overnight – I'm talking about the people I've met who can, without any hesitation, take $1 and turn it into $2. Every time. All day. They're not necessarily at the top of the charts (because they can't perform that alchemy on any old user), but they certainly know what they're doing.
So, I figured I would pass along some of these insights. This is from REAL experience working with over 200 developers. The list represents the most common differentiators between the good and the great in the mobile world. I also implore you to checkout the Mobile App Development Guide for some extra tips and sources you need to know about.
1. Hiring native speakers to do localization.
I'm the first to admit that I've been known to use Google Translate. Sometimes it even works (I can speak un poquito Español) which often leads to me getting ahead of myself and thinking I can “eyeball” Russian as well. Not even close. даже близко.
What the top companies do is to recruit native speakers to translate the descriptions for them. Why? Not only because of grammar and all that, but because there can be subtleties that only natives know about. Specific words, references or phrases.
Similarly, they can help customize screenshots to show images that will resonate better with an audience. I have an app that uses prizes and showed it to a Chinese publisher – her immediate reaction was “Oh wow, if you showed XYZ images instead of ABC, this would be huge in China.” She then proceeded to show me exactly why. I was blown away. Btw how is QQ so massive in China?
This isn't as hard as you might think. Start with friends and family, move to social networks. Check outsourcing websites. Start slow. Not sure if this is a good ROI or not? A good rule of thumb is to use this technique once you've determined you have a winning app as opposed to trying to turn a loser into a winner.
Typically that's the best use of your time and money anyway.
2. Spending more time in the analytics than in the revenue report.
This is probably the most blatant difference between beginners and veterans. Of course, it's different when you're making money or have money to spend, but it's still important to point out. When you walk into a major gaming studio, there tend to be about 2-3x eyeballs on the analytics than on the revenue reports come in. Why? Because of this basic principle that most people don't realize:
Analytics are the key to scaling in business.
Think about that – how many companies do you know that can scale broken products? Similarly, imagine if every app you re-skinned or published had a detailed analysis every day and had tons of tests lined up for 6 months? By the end of that 6 months, every app that was shipped would probably make you 50% more money simply because the analytics pointed out problems.
Looking at revenue first is of the mentality of “publish first, cross fingers, see revenue to determine which was good” whereas looking at the analytics is more about “determine winning strategy, tweak, repeat.”
It's not easy, it's very difficult to outsource, and can often lead to dead ends. But that doesn't change the fact that almost every app company that has scaled, benefits from this.
This is, hands down, the biggest ROI hack I've ever found in business. Networking has such a lame connotation – the image of exchanging business cards and talking about goals and shit like that. Yeah right.
Networking is when you connect with someone who is on a completely different level than you are and you want to know why. I've met guys who can buy over $7M/mo in traffic and they don't blink an eye. They have given me more information in 20 minutes than I would have gotten researching blogs for 2 months. I've sat down with monetization gurus who can tell me everything that I'm doing wrong in 5 minutes. I've met hedge fund managers who show me how to turn $500,000 into $5M in two years just by investing it correctly.
The sad fact is that most people don't network very much because they're too shy or they don't know how to. When they do, they call up people just like themselves and end up talking about the same shit they talk about on Facebook.
I can assure you that by talking to people who are way further down the path than you are will change everything for you.
If you want a place to start, go to Clarity.fm – seriously, put aside $150 a month to talk to incredibly smart people. You WILL NOT be disappointed.
4. Setting up proprietary ad deals.
I'm going to write about this soon, but basically there is an enormous amount of money that goes unspent each month in the mobile ad network community. Sometimes it's because of misaligned demographics, but mostly it's because ad networks simply can't satisfy the appetite.
I was turned onto this model last October when someone showed me that he dealt with 3 advertisers who performed incredibly well for his apps, then negotiated crazy high CPI and eCPM rates. Chartboost offers something similar to this with Direct Deals, but people do this kind of stuff all the time outside of that framework.
I am certain that there are people out there reading this blog who get more downloads a day than I do, but I can often still make more money. In fact, I went a solid few months where I was pulling in $20 eCPM as a minimum on most of my apps with this strategy (late 2013-2014, by the way, not 2012 times) which drove revenue that only would have happened with 5x the traffic previously. On an average day I would pull in about $33 eCPM and it would be like that for every app I made after.
This is happening but requires some creativity and hustle. You'd be surprised at how much of a difference this can make.
5. Dialing In Backfill Campaigns
Any idea what the fill rate is on your ad networks? Even more importantly, any idea what the geographic fill rates look like?
I hate to break it to you, but they are WAY worse than you think, even with the big networks. I'm talking like 60% in many cases. Even if you're mediating, it can be abysmal.
What a lot of people don't do is capitalize on this with house ads/backfill. These are ads that you create yourself and serve when the ad networks can't fill the regular inventory. Most people simply create a cross promo to one of their own games (slow clap).
What they DON'T do is manually create a freakishly powerful affiliate network inventory that usually outperforms the regular ad network fill ads anyway. Here's a quick an dirty step by step:
1. Your MoPub banner has a 83% fill rate in the USA
2. You create a backfill inventory ad campaign that will show when no other network can fill that spot
3. You go to something like www.offervault.com and find an offer that you think will perform the best for your app (hint: look at historical performance to get an idea)
4. You create/download creative and get an affiliate link for that app
5. Your backfill ads now actually point to an app that will pay out a $3 CPI instead of being empty 17% of the time
6. Get a beer
This is a simple, easy to do strategy that can have a big impact on your ads.
6. Realizing that not all audiences behave the same (No, I don't want to download Candy Crush in my photo app).
As much as I wish the “market” could determine the best ad to show to the right person, the truth is that most people get awful targeting. A lot of this is because of Apple's restrictions, but a lot is because eCPM calcuations are heavily skewed towards bid size. In other words, the top bidding app usually gets shown because the price will almost always trump anything else.
Something I notice successful app companies doing is realizing that they cannot just show the market bid ads to their audience. They need to control it, even if it means less impressions and lower eCPM – they want Lifetime Value (LTV) over everything. The idea of advertising Big Fish Casino in a Food and Cooking app is something that a beginner might do (because, hey, let Applovin's algorithm do the work, right?), but a more advanced marketer would never let happen.
As you move into niche games and out of games entirely, realize that you need to think about your monetization strategy accordingly. If there are few ads that convert well for Weather apps….maybe ads aren't your strategy anymore, or you have to find a very specific type of advertisement that works in those types of apps. This should be a BIG decision, not just something that everyone else is doing.
7. They know when to cut their losses.
Unfortunately, this is in the minority of companies in San Francisco. Led by visionaries instead of CFOs, businesses tend to believe in the dream so much that they blind themselves to the fact that certain parts of the business are just sucking cash. The companies that I have seen succeed do this constantly, referred to as “pivoting,” but on a micro level. 4 months of development on a chat function with no timeline in sight? Scrap it and eat the $30k investment. Re-focus on the apps that are actually profitable.
This can be a difficult trade-off to make. Certain ideas require a period of zero profit to explode. But most don't.
Remember, 4 singles is the same as a home run.
One of the most common conversations I have with people is trying to politely say that they're wasting their time and money on so many expesenses. Why do you have three VAs? Why are you using AppFigures (paid) and not AppAnnie (free)? Why are you spending $10,000 a year trying to turn that big game into a top grossing game when you have 7 other apps that make $2,000/mo and the big one makes you $200?
Like I said, it's not easy, but the lean startup is setup for success. If you haven't already, sign up for my newsletter to hear more insider info like this.
It's always amazing to see how differently app businesses are run. Did I miss anything?
Leave me a comment tell me one business tactic you are doing to grow your company.